Verdict on Tigers' JaCoby Jones a sour ending after sweet turnaround

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
JaCoby Jones

Detroit – Someday JaCoby Jones will talk publicly about the abject frustration and disappointment he’s feeling about having the most promising big-league season of his career cut short by a fractured ulna bone in his left wrist.

Sunday was not that day, however.

Jones twice briskly walked past three waiting reporters, not even making eye contact, let alone saying hello. Message received. Too soon. Emotions still too raw.

Jones was hit in the wrist by a 96-mph fastball from Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez on Friday. Initial X-rays came back negative, but a CTscan Saturday revealed the fracture.

“It’s an internal derangement of the bone,” said Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter. “With an X-ray, you are looking for big fractures, where it’s all the way through. Then, you know the athlete and you know the symptoms. You know that JaCoby is one of our toughest players. He will play through anything.

“But 36 hours later he was still feeling the same soreness. Immediately a flag goes up in your head that something’s not right.”

At that point, the CTscan was ordered.

“There’s nothing to do now but let it heal,” Teter said. “Otherwise, you could have other complications and actually make things worse.”

Teter was asked if an injury like this could impact Jones’ throughout his career.

“If you are asking me if he gets hit with a 96-mph fastball in the same spot, could it happen again – yes,” he said. “Ninety-six on any bone in your body and that can happen. But we don’t foresee this being something that will give him problems in the normal process of playing baseball once it heals.”

Jones’ final stat line will not completely tell the story of his 2019 season – .235/.310/.430 with an OPS-plus of 93, 11 home runs, 26 RBIs and 39 runs scored. Those rather pedestrian numbers don’t reflect the 180-degree turnaround he made.

He was hitting .173 on May 23 and there was understandable concern within the organization that he may end up being a fourth outfielder going forward instead of the everyday center fielder. But, on a suggestion by assistant general manager Scott Bream and hours and hours of work with hitting coaches Lloyd McClendon and Phil Clark, Jones found a sustainable fix.

He adjusted his set-up at the plate, leaving the bat on his shoulder a little longer to calm his hands. From that position, he was able to see the ball better out of the pitcher’s hand and recognize spin quicker. And without all the extra movement in his lightning-quick hands, he was able to take a more direct path to the ball.

The result was a 36-game spree where he hit .320 with a .586 slugging and a .960 OPS.

“I had confidence in myself,” Jones said in June. “No matter what the results were, I knew I could come out of it and do this. Just keep believing. It’s a huge turnaround from where I was.”

That’s what he can take into the offseason, even from the abbreviated, 88-game season.